Abstract

Degradation of contaminant hydrocarbons in groundwater by microbially mediated oxidation, linked to the reduction of electron acceptors, is fundamental to the strategy of ‘monitored natural attenuation’ (MNA) for oxidizable hydrocarbons, which is increasingly being adopted at polluted aquifer sites throughout Europe and North America. Commonly, oxygen is depleted and following the reduction of nitrate, solid-phase Fe oxides become the dominant electron acceptors. Arsenic, associated with Fe and Mn oxides in soils and sediments, may therefore be mobilized to groundwater and pose an additional threat to environmental receptors. In a pilot study of three aquifers in England, we have examined the extent to which arsenic is released to groundwater under Fe(III)-reducing conditions imposed by contaminant hydrocarbons. Results show that arsenic is locally mobilized in the Chalk to <10 μg/l, in Quaternary gravels to 70 μg/l and in the Triassic sandstones to 160 μg/l. At the Chalk and Quaternary gravels sites arsenic mobilization is demonstrably linked to reduction of Fe- and Mn-oxides. This is not so at the Triassic sandstone site, where release of arsenic is related to elevated bicarbonate alkalinity. Redox-driven arsenic mobilization at other Triassic sandstone locations is possible. Further work is required on the solid-phase sources of arsenic in the aquifers, and to relate the hydrochemical observations to groundwater hydraulic conditions.

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